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Monkton's Ridge Vermont Craft Roasters Is the State's First Certified Bird-Friendly Coffee


Published August 9, 2022 at 1:39 p.m.
Updated August 10, 2022 at 10:01 a.m.

Andrew Baker and Diana Hill of Ridge Vermont Craft Roasters - COURTESY
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  • Andrew Baker and Diana Hill of Ridge Vermont Craft Roasters

Diana Hill and Andrew Baker attended the same Rutland preschool. The married couple, now 33, had their first date early in high school at the now-closed Coffee Exchange in downtown Rutland.

That inaugural meetup foreshadowed Ridge Vermont Craft Roasters, which they cofounded last year in their Monkton home.

"We've always loved coffee," Baker said. "We always thought it'd be nice to have a little café or a coffee-roasting business."

But the couple's newly hatched roastery is about more than a good cup of joe.

When customers buy their Honduras dark roast ($15.75 for 12 ounces) or Guatemala light roast ($14.75) online or at a few local retail outlets, they are helping preserve the endangered winter habitat of many of Vermont's migratory songbirds, including the Baltimore oriole, scarlet tanager and numerous warbler species.

Ridge Vermont Craft Roasters is the state's first certified bird-friendly coffee company, according to Kirstin Hill (no relation), the bird friendly program manager for the Migratory Bird Center of the Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute. About 50 roasters worldwide carry the bird-friendly certification, most of them in North America.

Ridge Vermont Craft Roasters coffee - COURTESY
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  • Ridge Vermont Craft Roasters coffee

Last winter, Diana Hill and Baker vended at the Burlington Farmers Market and spent a lot of time explaining the bird-coffee connection, which they had only recently learned about themselves.

The couple always planned to have an organic, Fair Trade Certified business, Hill explained. "It wasn't until we started to really dive into it that we even learned about bird friendly," she said. "We didn't realize that, like, three-quarters of coffee is grown in places where they destroy critical forest habitat" — a figure confirmed by the Smithsonian.

Back in the 1990s, research from the Smithsonian's Migratory Bird Center revealed "a pretty substantial decline in migratory bird populations that was associated with habitat loss in their overwintering areas in Central and South America," Kirstin Hill said.

Researchers identified coffee regions as a "really, really high-value" opportunity, she said. "If we could protect this habitat, then we could do really good things for migratory birds and other wildlife."

Maintaining biodiverse forests has other benefits, she added, including providing carbon sinks and protecting soil from erosion.

Nineteen percent of Vermont birds, comprising about 80 species, migrate to coffee-growing regions in South and Central America, said Erin Talmage, executive director of Huntington's Birds of Vermont Museum, whose shop sells Ridge Vermont Craft Roasters coffees.

Talmage said she was excited to learn of a certified Vermont roaster. She's impressed by the Smithsonian's criteria and has carried non-Vermont certified coffee for several years.

Choosing bird-friendly coffee, she said, "is a really easy thing to do that can make a difference." The museum offers an educational program on the subject to libraries and community groups.

The Smithsonian program currently certifies less than 1 percent of coffee grown worldwide, Kirstin Hill said, but, thanks to companies like Ridge Vermont Craft Roasters, consumer awareness is growing.

Another benefit of bird-friendly coffee is that it ripens more slowly in the shade and develops "more complex, deeper flavors," Diana Hill said.

The couple has fine-tuned their roasting approach to optimize the natural qualities of the beans they source through the Smithsonian bird-friendly program network. Head roaster Hill roasts to order to ensure freshness. Her husband, who worked at SpaceX before the pair moved back to Vermont in 2015, helps with the coffee business while working full time as an aerospace engineer.

Coffee from Ridge Vermont Craft Roasters, Hill promised, is not only delicious but also "the most responsible cup that you could have."

The original print version of this article was headlined "For the Birds"